Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

William V. Davidson


Since before Spanish Contact, the Pech Indians have occupied a large portion of northeastern Honduras. Like other native American populations, they have suffered significant territorial reductions and cultural alterations at the hands of European colonists and modern ladino immigrants. Utilizing the methodologies of cultural geography, ethnohistory, and ethnogeography, the Pech, formerly known as the Paya, are scrutinized to illustrate the process by which indigenous peoples are reduced and incorporated into a developing national setting. Part One examines the scholarly record on the ethnohistory of the Pech and their neighbors to delimit their habitats and to document Pech incorporation into the Spanish colonial realm. Part Two describes their post-Independence settlement and land use patterns, and explains the most recent changes. The pivotal role of Padre Manuel Subirana in establishing the original Pech land grants is highlighted, and early Honduran censuses and travelers' accounts by Karl Sapper and Eduard Conzemius are employed to reconstruct settlement locations. From fieldwork in 1991-2, the author identified the Pech' current three-fold use and characterization of the local habitat: montana, serrania, and vega. The eastward expansion of Honduran (ladino) population and the accompanying economic activities that forged into the Pech lands of eastern Olancho during the last three decades is proposed as the mechanism that recently altered the settlement and land tenure of the Pech. National and local migration studies, mapped intensively, indicate clearly the movement of the ladino frontier eastward to overwhelm the lands of the Pech. Road improvements triggered alterations of Pech lands and their attempts to reconstruct their land tenure system. Today, of the approximately 1,900 Pech, about 90 percent occupy a much-reduced bi-nodal core region in two upland valleys in the municipios of Dulce Nombre de Culmi and San Esteban. eastern Olancho. A few Pech also live in outlier lowland aseas at Silin (near Trujillo) and at Las Marias on the Rio Platano.